Tampa-Area Man Wonders If Roman Coins Found on Beach Prove Pre-Columbian European Presence in Florida
On Sunday, the Science Channel premiered America’s Lost Vikings, a show in the mold of History’s Curse of Oak Island following the misadventures of two former History Channel archaeologists, Blue Nelson and Mike Arbuthnot, as they explore real and imagined Viking exploration in pre-Columbian North America. The first episode was rather dull, with little left for me to say that hasn’t been said by Sara Head of Archaeological Fantasies in her review posted on Adventures in Poor Taste. I strongly recommend that you read the review. But I do want to highlight one of Head’s key points, about the particularly masculine bent of this genre of programming:
I’m also struck with how Vikings‘ chosen audience is clearly men, given how far it went to not mention women at all. The main focus of the first episode is the well-researched and documented site of L’Anse aux Meadows, the only confirmed Norse settlement site in the Americas. L’Anse aux Meadows was investigated in the 1960s by archaeologists Anne Stine Ingstad and her husband Helge Ingstad. The majority of what we know about L’Anse aux Meadows is because of the Ingstads, and continuing work in the 1970s by Birgitta Wallace, archaeologist emerita for Parks Canada. Not that Nelson or Arbuthnot mention any of that. They attribute everything to only Helge Ingstad, effectively erasing Anne Stine Ingstad and Wallace from the picture. (There’s literally a monument at L’Anse aux Meadows for both of the Ingstads. They have to walk past it to see the site.)
The male-focused audience is practically a given across these kinds of history/adventure shows, though plenty of women watch. It’s rather interesting to see the way cable TV tends to gender their programs, and equally interesting to see how history, archaeology, exploration, and “treasure” are coded as male, even when women appear on the shows, often as eye candy.
We’ll see whether future episodes go off the rails into pseudohistory, but for now, the show is a sensationalized but fairly staid look at the Vikings of L’anse aux Meadows.
Last week, Fox 13 News in Tampa reported that a treasure hunter named Frank Abreu discovered three Roman coins on a beach back in May, and four more afterward, and has now had them authenticated. As a result, he has come to suspect that Romans visited Tampa thousands of years ago. Abreu said that he only revealed the discovery now because he feared that “somebody” would seek to discredit his find rather than try to solve the mystery.
“The implications that there could have been Romans here in the United States prior to Christopher Columbus is crazy. So if that can be proved or if someone can tell me how these coins got here that’s really what we need to find out,” Abreu told Fox 13.
Abreu said that he considered the idea that the coins had been left in modern times, though he did not explain why he discounted this rather obvious conclusion. If his metal detector was able to find the three small coins and he could easily recover them on the beach, then they were not buried terribly deep and are unlikely to have been there for two thousand years.
I have a handful of Greek and Roman coins in my office. This does not mean that Greeks and Romans used to live in my house. It means that I bought them decades ago and have hauled them around from place to place over the years. My father is an antique dealer, and when I was a kid, the owner of an antique shop where he did business kept a jar of Roman coins on his counter. They were worthless third and fourth century bronze coins, the kind that Europeans used to sell in bulk because they were so common, and he would give them out to kids when their parents bought something. Such trafficking in ancient coins has been going on since the fall of the Roman Empire, and there is no reason to suspect that coins recovered in Florida are any different.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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